Friday, October 06, 2006

Patience and Reconciliation

As our church re-commits to its core values and as the people of our church radically reevaluate their personal values, the subject of reconciliation inevitably comes up. I am hearing people talk about it not just in terms of our church, but now, as a result, in terms of their own lives and relationships.

This is a good thing. When you recognize something is broken, it's both understandable and valuable that you'd want to fix it. But the work of reconciliation is tricky. Reconciliation can lay at the end of a long, dark, treacherous road. And the bitter truth of the work is that those who set out on that road may never reach their desired destination.

Know that desiring reconciliation is a good and godly desire. It is an attitude, a perspective, and a behavioral stance that brims with the Gospel. For that is what the Gospel is -- that we can be reconciled with God. So any time you desire reconciliation with someone you've wronged or with someone who's wronged you, you are seeking to reflect the glory of the Gospel in your own life.
So here are some truths, a couple of them hard, about the work of reconciliation:

1. Reconciliation is a two-way street.
This would seem to go without saying, but many are the hurts and frustrations of those seeking reconciliation with someone just flat-out uninterested in it (or flat-out difficult to deal with).
Repentance is an act one person does. Forgiveness is an act one person does. An offender can repent whether his victim forgives him or not. A victim can forgive whether his offender repents or not. But reconciliation cannot occur without a repentant offender and a forgiving victim. It just can't. And because both repentance and forgiveness are difficult works, sometimes with long hard roads of their own to reach, reconciliation becomes even more difficult. The beauty is when both parties are willing. It doesn't always make the reconciling work easy, but it obviously makes it easier, if only because having two willing parties makes the reconciling work possible.
But what if one is not willing? That is the second hard truth . . .

2. Reconciliation is risky.
This is why working at reconciliation is no guarantee in itself that reconciliation will be achieved.
We are dealing with human beings here, not logic problems. And human beings can be manic, messy, and messed up. Sin is so destructive, so harmful. It shouldn't surprise us at all that "fixing it" can be a complicated process. Perhaps the hardest truth of all is that you cannot control what someone else will say or do. You may be really seeking reconciliation with someone, but if they are unwilling or intent on maintaining their ill will toward you, you will be doing this work alone. This doesn't mean you don't do it. It just means, you do the work of reconciliation without a guarantee. There's a godly glory in taking this risk (which I'll mention in a sec), but it will no doubt cause the person seeking reconciliation much pain and lots of doubt.
You cannot control anyone but yourself; therefore you cannot guarantee results. On the other hand: You cannot control anyone but yourself; therefore you can still seek reconciliation because it is the right and God-honoring thing to do.

Paul says three things remain: faith, hope, and love. These must all be present for the work of reconciliation to be effective . . .

3. Reconciliation requires hope.
When both parties are willing, both hope to God that He will grant them their joint desire for healing. And when an offender is genuinely repentant and a victim is genuinely forgiving, God grants this desire. That is the guarantee of grace; if you want it, you got it.
When only one party is willing, one hopes to God that He will grant both parties healing. It may not happen, but by maintaining a steady hope that He will do it you are also acknowledging that . . .

4. Reconciliation requires faith.
If you are trusting your words and works to bring healing, you will probably be frustrated by the results. As we said, people are complicated. The work is messy because sin does real damage and emotions cause people to act all sorts of messy ways. But if you trust God to do the work of reconciliation, then He can use your words and works to bring healing. His strength is perfect. That's good news for imperfect people.

5. Reconciliation is the work of love.
The greatest of the three things that remain is love. That is the impetus of the Gospel, and that is why your desire for reconciliation must be about extending the love of God to someone and seeing it produce fruit in your life and all you encounter. Reconciliation is Great Commandment discipleship. It's okay to desire fellowship, peaceful encounters, or calmed nerves and emotions. But those things must all be byproducts of the chief motivator of reconciliation -- real love for the other person.

The sixth and last truth may be the most important:

6. Reconciliation requires patience.
This is so, so crucial. Because if reconciliation is really what you want, you cannot give up. If you are a forgiving victim, you must be relentlessly patient in the face of continuing hurts and dismissals. It's likely your offender doesn't think he's done anything wrong. It's likely he thinks you're pathetic or stupid or even arrogant for forgiving him for something he doesn't think requires forgiveness. Still, you must be patient, accept the risk, and continue to work in love.

If you are a repentant offender, you must be patient with your victim. Depending on the hurt you've caused, forgiveness may take a long, long time. Accept the risk that it may never come. But you cannot make demands or continue to place obligations. Be relentless in making amends and being open to whatever your victim would have you do or hear. It doesn't mean you have to take abuse forever, but if you are truly repentant and truly want reconciliation, this stance does often require a "doormat phase." If you are repentant, it's okay to accept that your victim does not want to be in a relationship with you any more. You don't have to place yourself under their abuse. But if you want reconciliation, you probably do.

Be patient with each other and with the work God is doing. Reconciliation with God required the sinless life of Jesus, the torturous work of the cross, a painful death, and the miracle of the resurrection. We should not expect reconciliation in our own relationships to be easy or instantaneous. We have long roads on which to carry heavy burdens. The great thing is that reconciliation honors and glorifies God, and so He will honor and sustain you in that work, whatever the "real life" result.

Here's Paul in Galatians 6:9-10:
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Don't get tired of doing good. Don't give up. It may not end with the results you want, but glorifying God will always be to your benefit.
Here's Peter in his second epistle, 3:9:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

If reconciliation is a living picture and application of the Gospel, then let us "be Jesus" to others by being patient in the work. Just as the Lord was patient with us because He did not desire our destruction, be patient with others as you desire reconciliation.


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